German General Erich Ludendorff Resigns

Oct 27, 1918:

German General Erich Ludendorff Resigns

Under pressure from the government of Chancellor Max von Baden, Erich Ludendorff, the quartermaster general of the German army, resigns on October 27, 1918, just days before Germany calls for an armistice, bringing World War I to an end after four long years.

Second in command to Chief of Staff Paul von Hindenburg for most of the war effort, Ludendorff had masterminded the final, massive German offensive during the spring of 1918. Beginning that summer, however, the Allies—spearheaded by British, French and American troops—made a great resurgence, reversing many of Germany’s gains and turning the tide decisively toward an Allied victory. By the end of September, the Germans had been forced to retreat to the so-called Hindenburg Line, the last line of their defenses in eastern France and western Belgium; on September 29, that formidable line was breached.

That same day, at a meeting of Kaiser Wilhelm’s crown council at the resort town of Spa, Ludendorff demanded that Germany seek an immediate armistice on the terms set forth by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in his famous Fourteen Points address the previous January. A week later, the newly appointed chancellor, von Baden, contacted Washington to open peace negotiations. Fighting continued, however, as Wilson and the other Allies refused to negotiate with an undemocratic Germany governed, in effect, by the army’s Supreme Command. A defiant Ludendorff and Hindenburg resolved to fight on, issuing a letter to all army group commanders calling the Allied demands that Germany submit to its armistice terms unreasonable and “nothing for us soldiers but a challenge to continue our resistance with all our strength.”

This telegraphed “fight to the finish” order was withdrawn after an army commander protested—its message was largely impossible for the demoralized and broken German army to carry out. It was leaked to the newspapers, however, and published on October 25 to the great outrage of the German government. Von Baden went to Kaiser Wilhelm to demand Ludendorff’s resignation; for his part, Ludendorff traveled to Berlin to convince the kaiser to reject the latest note from President Wilson. He blamed defeat on the battlefield to discontent on the home front, stating that if the German people would support their troops, “the war can be maintained for some months.” Although backed by Hindenburg and the chief of the German navy, Admiral Reinhardt Scheer, Ludendorff had angered the kaiser, and was forced to tender his resignation. Hindenburg tried to resign as well, but was refused by Wilhelm, and he remained as a mere figurehead for a great German war-making machine that had lost its driving force. Less than two weeks later, the kaiser himself abdicated, and World War I was over.

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Wreck of WWII German U-boat found off North Carolina

A World War II German U-boat, sunk during the Battle of the Atlantic more than 72 years ago, has been discovered off the coast of North Carolina, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Tuesday.

The German sub, the U-576, was found at the bottom of the Atlantic 30 miles off Cape Hatteras and just 240 yards from an American merchant ship, the merchant tanker Bluefields, which was part of a 24-ship U.S. convoy heading from Virginia to Key West, Florida, on July 14, 1942.

“This is not just the discovery of a single shipwreck,” said Joe Hoyt, chief scientist of NOAA’s Office of Marine Sanctuaries expedition, which found the vessels. “We have discovered an important battle site that is part of the Battle of the Atlantic. These two ships rest only a few hundred yards apart and together help us interpret and share their forgotten stories.”

The story of U-576 was is the more tragic of the two wrecks.

Bluefields did not sustain any casualties during the sinking, but all 45 crew of the U-boat were lost.

Commanding U-576 that July day was Kapitanleutnant Hans-Dieter Heinicke. According to documents from the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, where the wrecks rest, Heinicke had radioed back to commanders in occupied France on July 13 to say the U-boat was damaged and heading back to Germany after a month-long patrol without success against Allied shipping.

A U-boat and its American prey haunt Gulf of Mexico

As U-576 began that journey home, it ran across convoy KS-520, with 19 merchant vessels and five escorts, on the afternoon of July 14, according to the documents.

Heinicke, who was on his fifth U-boat patrol with relatively little success against Allied shipping, saw a chance for redemption.

“In spite of his damaged ship, Heinicke decided to attack at all costs,” a history from the sanctuary reads. “However, at 4:00 pm just before he could fire his torpedoes, one of the Coast Guard cutters picked up a sonar contact. The Coast Guard crew dropped three depth charges, followed by five more 10 minutes later.”

But Heinicke pressed his attack, firing off four torpedoes about 4:15 p.m.

“The U-576 sank the Nicaraguan-flagged freighter Bluefields and severely damaged two other ships. In response, U.S. Navy Kingfisher aircraft, which provided the convoy’s air cover, bombed U-576 while the merchant ship Unicoi attacked it with its deck gun,” the NOAA release reads. The sub sank in minutes.

Two NOAA research vessels, the Okeanos Explorer and SRVX Sand Tiger, participated in the search for the wrecks, which were found and verified in August, NOAA said.

The wreck site is considered a war grave and protected by international law.

“Few people realize how close the war actually came to America’s shores,” David Alberg, superintendent of NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, said in a statement. “As we learn more about the underwater battlefield, Bluefields and U-576 will provide additional insight into a relatively little-known chapter in American history.”

Germany ceases Unrestricted Submarine Warfare

Oct 21, 1918:

Germany ceases Unrestricted Submarine Warfare

On this day in 1918, a German U-boat submarine fires the last torpedo of World War I, as Germany ceases its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare.

Unrestricted submarine warfare was first introduced in World War I in early 1915, when Germany declared the area around the British Isles a war zone, in which all merchant ships, including those from neutral countries, would be attacked by the German navy. To confront the overwhelmingly superiority of the British navy, the Germans utilized their most dangerous weapon, the stealthy U-boat submarine. A string of attacks on merchant ships began, culminating in the sinking of the British ship Lusitania by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915. The attack on the Lusitania—which killed 1,201 people, including 128 Americans—sparked the ire of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who demanded an end to German attacks against unarmed merchant ships. Over the next year, the German navy reluctantly limited the practice at the urging of the country’s government, who feared antagonizing the U.S. and provoking its intervention in the war against Germany.

At the beginning of 1917, however, naval and army commanders managed to convince Kaiser Wilhelm II of the need to resume the unrestricted submarine policy, claiming that unrestricted U-boat warfare against the British at sea could result in a German victory by that fall. On February 1, Germany resumed its submarine attacks on enemy and neutral shipping interests at sea. Two days later, Wilson broke diplomatic relations with Germany; on April 6, 1917, the U.S. formally entered World War I on the side of the Allied powers.

The hope that Germany—despite the deadlock on the battlefields of the Western Front—could win the war by naval warfare persisted until the last months of the war, growing fainter with the Allied resurgence in France and Belgium in the summer of 1918 and the deepening discontent and frustration with the war on the German home front, as well as among its soldiers and sailors. In mid-October 1918, as the German government grappled with how to obtain an armistice without damaging Germany’s chances to obtain favorable peace terms and its army commanders contended with the dire situation at the front, Admiral Reinhardt Scheer dealt the final blow to Germany’s U-boat strategy, ordering all his navy’s submarines to return to their German bases.

The final German torpedo of World War I was fired in the Irish Sea on October 21, sinking a small British merchant ship, the Saint Barcham, and drowning its eight crewmen. In a measure of the characteristic aggression of German submarine warfare, a total of 318 merchant seamen had been killed that month alone. Now, however, the German submarines returned home, leaving the entire strategically important Belgian coast firmly under Allied control.

 

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